Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bhopal Gas Tragedy & Judgment: Lessons to be learnt

J.N. Manokaran
After more than quarter century the victims of the infamous Bhopal Gas accident were able to hear the verdict that pronounced eight accused as guilty and were awarded a jail sentence of two years.  They all walked free by getting bail.  The poor victims consider this as inadequate and insufficient punishment.  The Judiciary, the CBI, the Government were all blamed for this.  The media had glorious moments by making this news sensation rather than sensitizing the masses. 
There are five aspects that should be considered in general and apply to this tragedy in particular:
1.      Human life is sacred
In India, human life is so cheap.  People die for petty reasons.  Summer kills hundreds, so does the winter, so does the flood and drought.  It is an annual feature in Indian landscape.  Media reports piece by piece or byte by byte news, but does not dig deep to bring out the root cause of the problem.  Even animals are considered sacred.  Hence, a right wing leader could openly say that the value of cow is more than the value of Dalits, who were lynched in Haryana based on an allegation that they were skinning cow alive.  At least one lakh die in road accidents each year.  Thousands of farmers have committed suicide.  Malnutrition kills at least five thousand children a day.  People die of many preventable diseases. 
2.      No diligence in duty
There is no diligence in the duty done by Indians.  There is no perfection or completeness in things done.  Quick money is the only goal.  Expired drugs could be sold with impunity and active help of bureaucrats and politicians.  Education could be commercialized.  Teachers in most of the Government schools in rural and tribal areas never teach but draw full salary.  Government officials would demand bribe to do what they are supposed to do.  How many manholes have lid?  How many manholes are 6 to 12 inches above surface level, causing many accidents?  How many fire extinguishers that hangs in public building would function is anybody’s guess. 
3.      Lawmakers are inadequate
Lawmakers, our elected representatives are inadequate to face the challenges of the emerging India.  They are unable to sit, discuss and think about the nation.  Disruption of Parliament (State Assemblies) is considered as their job description; throwing chairs is their methodology; shouting slogans is their hobby;  increasing their pay and perks is their sacred duty.  Worse, they align with corrupt bureaucrats to oppress people by their foolish policies.  Is there a single city in India, where the traffic is organized?  They spend their time in majoring in minors and neglecting the nation’s challenges, and potentials. 
It takes sixty years for the lawmakers to make Right to Education as Act.  They know the cases in judicial system takes decades to be completed, but do not have capacity to address this issue.  They cannot mandate that the surplus grains in Food Corporation of India godowns to be distributed among the malnourished poor and starving villagers. 
4.      Implementation of law is a mockery
Governance in India happens by chance.  Laws in India are meant to be broken.  How many urban building in India have violated fire safety norms and car parking norms?  May be 90 per cent and above.  What is the use of such laws?  Any one can stand in a traffic signal and count how many violations happen every hour.  Violators of law are penalized.  Government may fix a huge sum as fine, but there will be always a police officer who could be bribed with a fraction of that amount and go scot free.  A politician distributes free sarees, there a stampede and death.  Was there anyone held responsible?  The Government of India says that there is adequate grain to be distributed through Public Distribution System (PDS).  But the food grains are looted before it reaches the masses. 
5.      Civil society flaws
Civil Society in India is dumb.  There is no awareness and stamina to stand up for rights.  There is no sense of justice or truth.  Let us think of dowry, it is illegal, but practiced with great flair.  When the society fails to condemn the culprit, the judicial system has very little effect.  So, is the case with child marriages, which is illegal.  Every year it happens, sometimes presided by elected politician.  There is no drinking water or electricity or health care or school in many villages.  How many villagers demanded their rights.  Men in the villages play cards while women walk long distances to carry water on their heads.  Why can’t these shameless men do something, like sit on dharna to get their right for safe drinking water?  A poor villager borrows money to treat his sick wife, instead of demanding health services in the defunct Public Health Centre (PHC) in the village.  
Application of five aspects in Bhopal tragedy:
1.      The Union Carbide India Limited did not value human life as sacred.  If that was the case, they would have built the factory outside the city; implemented all safety measures and would have taken all precautions. 
2.      The media focuses on Warren Anderson, forgetting the material used in the factory was not designed properly, the leakage happened because of sub-standard make of pipes and valves.    When local people pointed out the flaws like leakage, it was brushed aside.  None of the staff took responsibility to make safety as priority. 
3.      The lawmakers did not have any proper guidelines or laws for MOU with a MNC.  So, there was no law under which the victims could claim compensation or the company could be made accountable. 
4.      Even the common laws were violated.  Having industry within large human habitant itself is violation of law (and lack of common sense).  Who were the officers who granted approval for this factory, the ministers who gave grants or lands to this factory?  Why no cases against them?
5.      The people of Bhopal city did not have awareness of their rights to have safe air, water and environment.  The local society was not aware of what was happening and what was in store for them.  Lack of education and awareness could be the causes. 
Instead of focusing on this tragedy – post mortem and analysis; our energy should be used to learn from this.  Radioactive materials are found in Delhi that caused death and damage.  Floods submerge few districts in East India every year.  Was anyone held responsible?  Have there been adequate laws in place?  Does the Government have the political will to implement such laws?  Is there people awareness?  India has not learnt from this tragedy even after twenty-five years.  Let media focus on the future and bring in quality change in the lives of people in India.